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Dinant, Belgium - a Belgian Fairytale Town

Coming “home”? {can we call Brussels my home base for this trip?!} the previous night I was on such a high from a fantastic 3 days in Paris and I was pumped for whatever my last day had in store! Since the get-go I had been planning on doing Luxembourg on my last day so I’m typically Tracy fashion I got in from Paris, grabbed some fresh Belgian fries and people watched in downtown Brussels until late into the night before heading back to my hostel to plan for the previous day (have I mentioned that I’m a procrastinator?!) I had heard mention from other travelers that Luxembourg was a hefty day trip but I still thought it was doable. I started checking online and realized that not only was it more than $60 round trip to go to Luxembourg from Brussels, but it was also just over 4 hours each way; so 8 hours total in a train on my last day in Europe...that didn’t sound great. But to be honest I felt like I had covered much of Brussels already. So, back to the drawing board. I contacted my best friend Google and started trying to piece together my final day in Belgium. 

And then I saw it, the picture that caught my attention looked like a real like fairy tale picture. I couldn’t really find much other information on the small town though other than seeing that it was tiny and really had no public transportation other than a train that could dump you at the north end of town that I could snag for only a couple of bucks each way. SOLD...I was going to Dinant in the morning!

I went to the train station not too far from my hostel and asked the man behind the counter for a round trip ticket to Dinant for the day and he asked me twice if Dinant was the correct town and then if I knew someone there (I was beginning to doubt my decision at this point!) I hopped on the train & a quick nap later, and I was in Dinant....umm ish. I started walking, and then I found the actual town. O.M.G. it was BEAUTIFUL!

First stop for me was checking out the inside of the beautiful, town center; Notre Dame de Dinant, and it most definitely didn't disappoint! And lordy, the stained glass in this church is one of the largest and most impressive in Europe!

The town was so pictuesque that I spent the next hour or more just walking up and down both sides of the river than ran through the town. It's a small enough town that I was easily able to walk from one extreme of the town to the other side. 
 Flags from European nations flanked both sides of the main bridge in town providing not only a colorful focal point, but also a great landmark in town as well as a beautiful backdrop for photographs!

Next on my list came to tackling the Citadel that was situated at the top of the large "hill" directly behind the massive church. If you look closely in many of the pictures you'll see it taking up most of the hilltop. Once I purchased my entrance fee and assured them that I'd take the stairs instead of the lift {totally worth it for the views && bragging rights alone ;)  } I began my climb of all 400+ steps to the top of the hill where the 100 year old Citadel stands. 

 Though the Citadel itself wasn't anything overly impressive, the views from the top and the walk up were beyond breathtaking {also...they literally took your breath away after all the climbing 🤣}

The remainder of my afternoon was spent walking out of town to an underground cave where I was able to tour the cave and the rock formations & crystals inside, checking out an old brewery in town, as well as the old university on the other side of the river.

Hands down though, at the end of the day as I was taking the train back to Belgium with a happy belly and a happy heart, I couldn't have been more pleased with my impromptu trip. Dinant, you absolutely blew me away!

I got back to Brussels late in the evening, used the last few euros I had for one more go-round on the fries & beer and headed back to the hostel to pack. My 10 day Belgian adventure was coming to a close, and I had a classroom full of littles waiting for me back in the States.

Until next time Belgium!

Tracy Jo Travels Takes on Paris!

So I admit, Belgium was a bit of a random trip for me spurred on by finding a cheap flight and the planning went on from there, but when I discovered in my research ahead of time that Paris was just under 3 hours by train from Brussels...it was a no brainer!

I left Bruge and had a quick train ride to Brussels where I transferred to a larger train line that took me right to Paris Nord Train Station where my adventure began! {Now because I know this could turn out to be a painfully long blog post if I'm not careful, I'm going to try and stick to mostly pictures {{and the occasional funny story, because hey, we all know our strengths ;) }} and some captions to let you know what's going on}  So, 3 days in Paris, the city of lights...here we go!

Night 1

I arrived late...like after 9pm...and was exhausted, but knew without a doubt that my first night I just had to see all the "must sees" lit up at night. My hostel told me that seeing one at this late in the evening was probably more of a realistic goal, but I've never been one to only be satisfied with easily attainable goals! But, good news, I saw both the Louvre && the Eiffel Tower lit up and it was m.a.g.i.c.a.l! 

Day 2

Though most people's big item in Paris I'm sure is the Eiffel Tower, I was beyond giddy to get into the Louvre! I purchased my ticket online for the 9am time slot but arrived 15 minutes after opening at 8:15 anticipating a time but I'm so stinking happy; not only was I too early for a line, but they let me in right away and I beat the huge crowds of tourists that were lined up when I left the museum almost 4 hours later! win. win win!!

Leaving the Louvre I headed to my next big place of interest, The Cathedral of Notre Dame, and lordly let me tell you, it didn't disappoint! Just like getting to the Louvre the night before, this was one of those goose bumpy type experiences that it seems so surreal that you just sit there in awe with your mouth hanging open {solo travel perk again - no one is there to get pictures of you looking like a fool staring up at these beautiful buildings!}

Pictured here: The beautiful front of the cathedral, stained glass inside, and then a side view {look closely and check out the gargoyles!} 

Even the back of the church pictured here on the left was amazing! So this middle picture...I have NO idea who these men are, yes one is a cop, yes he is holding a huge gun, and yes I think this picture is hilarious! I pulled out my selfie stick to get a picture {remember...solo traveler lol} and next thing I know the older guy jumps in the picture. I giggle a bit and he leaves so I take a second picture, he jumps back in and then the cop also joins, naturally I snap it again and got this shot! Eventually the older man offered to take a picture for me, but I love this one even more!

Inside views as well as gargoyles along the side of the church!

Arc de Triomph was next up on the list, right smack dab in the middle of a giant traffic circle!

Night 2

Night two I took things a tad bit slower than the first night in Paris and had signed up in advanced for a Sandeman's Night Walking Tour of Paris {silly me thought  I wouldn't be in Paris, solo, at night...funny thing, I did half of Paris the night before when it was pitch black out and this "night tour" I signed up for ended before the sun even finished setting! Oh well, live & learn!}

One amazing thing about this tour was the guide knew exactly where some of the most STUNNING views of the city and Eiffel Tower were...so here's to my shameless amount of tower pictures!!
 I mean did I REALLY go to Paris if I don't have at least 25 dozen pictures with me and this pretty tower I stumbled upon?! 
The tour ended before sundown but I was bound and determined to see the sunset behind the tower, so I plopped my pretty little butt down in the cold and sat on a stone wall outside of an art museum with this view in front of me for almost 2 hours waiting for the sunset and then marveling at the city as it began to twinkle with lights! Afterwards I headed to a teeny cafe near my hostel and had the most delicious French dinner with a glass of wine and people watched as pedestrians passed on the sidewalk. Happy ending to a happy day!

Day 3

My last and final day in Paris I decided to take it a little slower and veer off a teeny bit from the huge tourist attractions and go to some of the "smaller" still tourist attractions lol. I started my day off by checking out the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, also known as Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Not only is the Basilica itself beautiful, but it is also situated at the top of a hill and gives breathtaking views of the city as well. 
 While at Sacré-Cœur Basilica I decided to pay the couple of euros they were charging and climbed all the steps to the top of the bell tower. OH MY GOODNESS, they about had to pull me down from there. It was absolutely stunning to see all of Paris sprawled out in front of you like that, truly an amazing experience!
Today's lunch was brought to you by bread and a cheese plate for two...eaten by one {{but hey, that one person was REAL happy afterwards!}

My last stop before grabbing an early train {I still don't understand what happened but long story short my train ended up leaving 5 hours early} was the Luxembourg Gardens. They were free to enter and had great views as well as a wonderful place to meet up with friends or relax!

Thank you Paris! I'm not sure I did you justice in 3 short days but I can promise you this, I'll be back!
On wards and upwards, back to Brussels!

Bruges, Belgium in 36 Hours

Continuing on in my whirlwind tour of Belgium, I left Ghent Tuesday evening and headed for the popular tourist destination of Bruges that lies along the northern boarder of Belgium. Leaving Ghent on such a high note {seriously guys, I loved this town!} I had high expectations for my first night in Bruges, but unfortunately my not so Best Friend Mother Nature had other plans in store!

I arrived by train to to Bruges at the main train station in town and quickly realized that my hostel was over an hour's walk away, so I admitted defeat and booked my first (and almost only!) taxi of this trip. They dropped me off at my hostel and upon check in I inquired about an evening walking tour only to find out that it had departed less than 10 minutes before I checked in, but they urged me that I should be able to catch up! Another guest in the lobby said that he'd be interested in catching up with them as well, so I quickly raced to find my room and bed, locked my things up, and made my way back to the lobby in less than 5 minutes only to return to the lobby and find that it was now POURING outside. Against all better judgment we decided that it was still a great idea to find the tour. Well, long story short we never found them as we were d.r.e.n.c.h.e.d so we did what any good Belgian would do and found a hole in the wall bar and had a couple of good local beers and waited for the storm to pass!

The next morning I was bound && determined to make use of the beautiful weather and showed up for the 8 am walking tour only to discover that apparently no other tourist in Belgium wanted to be an early riser & that the next one wasn't until late morning. Low & behold, I'm my own private tour guide again! But of course life & travel are funny things and always like to through you for a loop if you're prepared to catch them! My tour guide was a man probably in his 40's that told me they couldn't depart with only 5 people. His friend whom he knew through the tour program, a man probably closer to 60, happened to be nearby though and I, being the only solo traveler in the small group, apparently made him feel bad and he gave me a quick 30 minute tour of Bruges; the "insider tour" as he called it, taking me to several places that he said typical guides can't go to because of the larger number of people in the groups. At the end of my surprise private tour I thanked the man profusely and using both my notes as well as his suggestions, began navigating Bruges solo.

I checked out the main Markt Square {ok it was more than I check out...it was a beautiful square, so alive with people!} as well as the city hall that was opened in the early 1400's and then made my way a couple blocks away to the Bonifacius Bridge & Our Lady of Bruges Gothic church & the gorgeous canals that surrounded this area. I am SO thankful that I went alone in the morning, my walking tour passed this same area later and you could hardly move, so glad I'm an early bird when I travel {{and only when I travel lol}} By this point it's well past breakfast and quickly nearing lunch so I did the most logical thing I could think of and stopped in a teeny tiny shop and ordered a homemade waffle and a cup of the most delicious hot chocolate that I have ever tasted! {I'm tellin' you, perks of solo travel. You eat when you want, where you want, and what you want....hello waffles & chocolate for lunch!!}

Making my way back to the Markt Square it was nearly time for the afternoon walking tour to take off. I quickly made friends with another young, female, solo, traveler, and we were off! {Side note: I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon with this girl until we both left to the train station and I never even got her name! haha}

Tour highlights included the Markt Square, Belfry Tower (huge bell tower downtown), the Church of our Lady of Bruges, the Gruuthuse Museum, the Old St. John Hospital {hello namesake!}, Ten Wijngaerde {an old community of nuns & lay women} & of course the Bonifacius Bridge.

After our tour, Nameless Girl Friend and I continued walking outside of the downtown area and grabbed dinner together at a recommended local pub where we met up with a couple of other travelers and shared food, beers, and stories for an hour or 2 before departing ways towards the train station...Next stop, Paris!

48 Hours in Ghent, Belgium

Lordy, by this point in the trip I felt like I had been in Europe traveling forever; but, it's only day 3...gotta love getting away from your normal routine. After my first 2 days in Brussels & then a quick trip to Antwerp I was off to Ghent and holy cow I'm not going to lie...it may have been my favorite city during my trip {{tough comparison to my last day though!!}}

For starters it was a hastily booked hostel (ok let's be honest they all were 😅) and when I finally got to my hostel I about peed my pants with joy. I was staying in the cutest little hostel (you can check it out here) it was only $35 a night, it was right in the downtown area, AND {{I haven't even gotten to the best part yet}} it was about a 20 second walk from a stinking castle!!! That's a win in my book!

I mosied around the downtown area for 2 hour or so, many shops were closing, but it was such a beautiful area with the castle and canals, and the winding roads...I just loved it! Eventually deciding I was hungry I found a small pizza shop and ordered myself a caper & anchovy pizza and ate it listening to the sweet music of a street musician. About the time I finished I headed back to the hostel to catch a free walking night tour that I had signed up for. Our guide met us and took our small group of 4 around the city showing us the famous buildings, the newly renovated lights around the city, and telling us stories of how Ghent came to be what it was today. Guys when he dropped us back off at midnight I was feeling like I had struck gold with this adorable little town!

The next morning I all but ran to the castle {let's not kid ourselves...I don't actually run but when the castle door is mere meters away I can make an excuse!} and was one of the first people in line. I spent a good hour exploring every nook and cranny of this place (it's just a small baby castle). Next up was St. Bavo's Cathedral that was oddly predominantly black & white inside with a giant whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling...memorable for sure. Walking around town I was so appreciative for the tour from the previous evening as I felt like I knew how to get from point A to point B as well as having a better understanding of what exactly I was looking at!

After lunch I paid a couple of Euros and went on a canal boat tour of the city that gave me even more views of the beautiful town of Ghent. I spent the remainder of my afternoon perusing the winding back streets in constant awe of the beautiful town that appeared to be straight out of the pages of a fairy tale. Before heading back to the train station I ran into another girl from my hostel and we got some beer and fries (h.e.l.l.o. Belgium!) and soaked up the afternoon sun before parting ways at the train station.

Ghent you've captured my heart, until next time....Brugge, I'm coming for you!

One Day in Antwerp, Belgium

Day 3: Antwerp

Easter Monday morning, after I left Brussels, I began my hostel hopping through Belgium trip with my first stop to Antwerp. Because I've been asked a lot I will say I did book all my train tickets & hostels ahead of time, it was not really necessarily as most didn't have assigned seats, but it did save me the hassle of having to figure out train schedules while I was there. Unfortunately the weather in Antwerp was the least cooperative of any of my days in Belgium and it was chilly with a drizzly rain all day, so my time in Antwerp wasn't quite what I was hoping it might be, but non-the-less, I checked out the cute little town. 

I arrived by train just before 10am and departed shortly before 7pm so this was the only town I visited as well that I didn't spend the night in. One great surprise was getting off the train in Antwerp and realizing how insanely gorgeous the train station itself was {talk about an unexpected perk!} Not having gotten a SIM card in Europe on this trip I didn't have any internet so I walked out of the station and just started following people hoping they were heading towards something interesting!

Lucky me I quickly found myself downtown {ok I can't lie I did stop for a bagel break on the way!} in the cutest little town square capped off by the Cathedral of Our Lady towering overhead. I did a couple laps of the square and the surrounding streets and headed off in search of museum I had been told about and low and behold ran into a castle {don't you just hate when that happens ;) } so of course I had to make a quick detour!

Once I finished checking out my newly purchased castle I headed out again in the direction of the Museum aan de Stroom; now to be honest I still have NO idea what's inside this museum, I think it's art, but that wasn't my goal. This museum is 10 stories tall and features glass windows and panoramic views of the city on all 10 floors that are open to the public {{hello free & beautiful...my kind of attraction!}} And let me tell you, the views didn't disappoint!

On my stroll back to the train station  I noticed a sign that said "peep show" and before I knew it I was in the middle of a street full of large windowed shops "advertising" barely dressed women...talk about uncomfortably running from there! haha But none the less I made it to the station and was excited and giddy headed for Ghent!